Some thoughts from the film room at Valley Ranch as the Cowboys get ready for the Eagles:
• We had a chance to meet with defensive coordinator Rob Ryan Friday afternoon for his weekly press briefing, which I enjoy more than any of the other opportunities we get.
The reason why I enjoy talking to Ryan is that you can learn what he is going to do during the week. What I learned from him this time around is that Kyle Wilber is going to get plenty of playing time if the Eagles play in their three wide receiver package and he has to counter with his nickel. Before it was Ernie Sims that was paired with Bruce Carter, but now with Carter out, I believe that Ryan is going to try and put the athletic Wilber on the field inside with Sims when he goes to nickel.
Ryan could try Brady Poppinga at linebacker, but when I watched him play for the Rams, he wasn't on the field during those situations and Ryan even said that we would most likely not see him this week. These Cowboys linebackers need to have that position flexibility to play both inside and out. To get his most athletic players on the field for nickel, don't be one bit surprised with Ryan if he puts Wilber in a position to make some plays against the Eagles.
• Still no Phil Costa, but the offensive line will once again have change, although it's one that they have played with before. Ryan Cook should be back at center and Mackenzy Bernadeau will move return to his right guard spot. Also, Tyron Smith should be ready to go at left tackle despite missing last week with his ankle injury.
What can they expect from the Eagles? Brandon Graham should start at left defensive end with Trent Cole on the right side. Against the Browns, there were some issues picking up the twist stunt, and on the short week, the Redskins gave them a strong dose of it.
The Eagles play a four-man line and have been struggling with consistent pressure this season. Defensive line coach Jim Washburn likes to get his guys up the field, but look for him to work some stunts to see if the Cowboys offensive line might still have some problems with it.
When Philadelphia's heavy four-man pressure isn't getting there, it puts a ton of strain on the secondary. The Cowboys receivers didn't have great numbers against the Eagles corners last time out, which surprised me, but the types of balls that were caught made a big difference.
• Said on Talkin' Cowboys that I challenge this offense to carry the team the rest of the way and I am not backing off that. With DeMarco Murray returning to the lineup and the emergence of Dez Bryant, in my view it's possible.
I understand the issues with the offensive line, but I believe with Murray back, the Cowboys will run the ball better. Head coach Jason Garrett said the other day that they were not going to do anything scheme-wise that was different than before, but in watching this team, I saw more of the "Boss" or stretch plays than what you are seeing now.
The type of defense that they are facing week to week might have something to do with that, but I have seen more traps, pulls and angle blocks with this line. I really like this scheme for the line because it allows them to tie up defenders and the ball is hitting the hole quicker.
The last time these two teams met, Felix Jones was very productive with his runs and I expect much of the same with Murray because he does run the ball better when he can attack the line. The Cowboys will dress four running backs for the Eagles game with Murray, Jones and Lance Dunbar getting the majority of the work carrying the ball with Phillip Tanner primarily seeing action on special teams. A fresh Murray in this game will be the one area that will help Tony Romo the most.
• Another injury to a Cowboys linebacker means another opportunity for someone to step up and try to fill the loss.
Pro scouts live for the chance to help their team, whether it's advanced scouting, breaking down other teams' practice squads or keeping the best emergency board possible. It's one thing to lose one or two players for a season, but to try and replace the two leading tacklers off your defense is a task that no scout would want.
The one thing that these pro scouts have on their side is the fact that the coaches embrace and trust their ability to coach. This is not easy for them, but they do it despite the fact that every week you feel like you're fighting for your life. Ryan has had to do it the entire season with his defense, offensive line coach Bill Callahan has played with his projected starting center for one game and three plays, and running backs coach Skip Peete has had to work without DeMarco Murray.
My point is nobody feels sorry for you in this league and you have to fight your way through these injuries. It doesn't get any harder than this, but it is what it is.
The bottom line is as long as these scouts have coaches that are willing to take these players off the street and coach them to the point of being productive in these games, then you always have a chance.